One of the most contentious issues the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has faced in recent years, is regulation of an activity known as ‘Fox Hound Training.”
Opponents call it “Fox Penning” and consider it a cruel practice for the animals involved. Supporters say their dogs are being trained to hunt under controlled conditions aimed at protecting all the animals involved. The DGIF board will vote Thursday on new safety requirements proposed at its meeting in March.
Laura Donahue is Virginia State Director of the Humane Society for the United States. Her group sent 2,000 negative comments to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries during a comment period, which ended June first. The group’s goal is to place a moratorium on the practice she calls fox penning, which began in Virginia in the 1980s.
“The majority of Virginians had no idea, with the exception of the small amount of individuals that participate in this practice, that this was even going on. You know really, when the Humane society of the United States started talking about this issue a few years ago it was really the first time that the public at large heard about this so I think that’s why it’s gone on for so long because it’s just been in the shadows. And I certainly don’t think it can stand the light of day.”
New regulations for the practice to be voted on by DGIF’s board include fewer dogs hunting foxes at any one time, escape routes for the foxes, and numerous other changes. Donahue says it’s not enough.
“So the existing regulations that have been advertised, that they are considering, are pretty meaningless and our members and supporters have been, you know, urging them to consider some additional regulations such as requiring muzzles for the dogs or requiring necropsies for all foxes that die in these pens so we can be certain they didn’t die from rabies, given you’re taking companion animals and mixing them with rabies vector species, on to go back out in the community.”
Consultant for the Virginia Foxhound Preserve Owners Association, Madeline Abbitt, said in a statement, Foxhound preserves are important to rural Virginians who train their dogs to hunt, compete and return to their owners after the hunt. The trainers say the increasing lack of open land for training is what created the need for these training preserves. . Proponents say the issue has become a hot button taken up by people in increasingly urban areas of Virginia who do not understand the need for it. The state of Florida recently banned the practice.
“It’s mostly a Southeast and Midwest phenomenon where these facilities occur but from the information that we’ve gathered, there are 20 different states that have at least one fox hound training preserves and I can tell you that with these proposed regulations we are by far head and shoulders more restrictive than any other state in the country that has these facilities and we feel we’re on very solid ground with regard to the animal welfare concerns that have been expressed with these recommendations," says Mike Fies with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
“The public at large is simply not OK with fencing in wildlife and we’re not going to stop speaking up against this chasing down of captive foxes. You know, we understand an outright prohibition would be difficult, but a moratorium should be an easy step. It’s how they dealt with deer penning and deer farming in captive shooting enclosures. There’s no reason why that should not be placed on these facilities so we will keep speaking up until we see - because everything else really is a Band-Aid," said Donahue.